SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – As the legal battle over Louisiana regulations requiring extensive training and licensing to legally braid hair in Louisiana drags on, natural hair braiders in the Black community remain in a difficult position between embracing their culture and facing potential fines.

Chendria Powell of Shreveport is in this position. She has been braiding since she was 14. Over the last ten years, she has honed her skills and mastered braiding techniques on the heads of family and friends.

“The best part about it for me is my clients look on their face after they get it, they’re happy,” Powell said.

No matter how good her work is or satisfied her clients are, the Louisiana Board of Cosmetology says Powell and other braiders must complete 500 hours of training and an exam in order to get an “alternative hair design” permit before she can do professionally what she has done for friends and family for a decade.

That process takes months and thousands of dollars in tuition fees to complete.

“Right now, it’s a process for me to get in school and finish. So right now I really don’t know,” Powell said.

Powell says she is not against the licensing requirements. She understands that braiders are providing a hair care service and so there must be some learning and preparation but she isn’t sold on the 500-hour requirement. Neither are the plaintiffs in a lawsuit that appears headed for trial in the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge.

Filed in 2019 with support from a nonprofit public-interest law firm, the Institute for Justice (IJ), the lawsuit against the Louisiana Board of Cosmetology notes that only one of more than 50 cosmetology schools in the state currently offers an alternative hair design curriculum.

“And actually obtaining the necessary permit is virtually impossible,” the suit claims. “A braider living in the New Orleans area would be required to stop working and travel more than four hours each way to Monroe in order to complete 600 hours of courses at the only school that actually offers the alternative hair design instruction.”

The suit asserts such training and licensing is not necessary, and requiring it oversteps the constitutional line.

“Plaintiffs-and all hair braiders throughout Louisiana-are required to endure hundreds of hours of unnecessary training and complete a practical examination, to legally do the very job they have been doing for years or decades,” the suit alleges.

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Not all states have a licensing requirement, and not all state licensing requirements are equal. There are 20 states that have no training or licensing required. Oregon requires an online module and exam. States that do require cosmetology board certifications range in the number of hours required from 16 hours in Florida to 2,100 hours in South Dakota.

“In Louisiana’s neighboring states-Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi, braiders are free to practice their trade without formal training or prior approval from the government,” the lawsuit notes. “Twenty-seven states require no license for hair braiding. Another 15 states have specialty licenses less burdensome than Louisiana’s. In fact, eight of those licenses require 50 hours or less of training.”

A trial date in the suit has not been set.